Outpost: enjoyably absurd horror debut flips the script on women in peril | Review

A lookout tower in the middle of a forest.

At full throttle Outpost is a delightfully weird take on survival stories and damsels in distress.

As director Joe Lo Truglio’s first feature-length project, Outpost is more proof that comedians can carry horror to fresh and unexpected ends.

As per Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Zach Cregger’s Barbarian, Lo Truglio writes and directs this tale of an abused woman who seeks solace in isolation, only to find worse horrors lurking in the wilderness.

Of course, we’ve had endless decades of movies directed by men which put women in peril, often where the female characters are little more than “bodies”, living or dead. So what can Lo Truglio – Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Detective Charles Boyle – tell us about female trauma or empowerment?

Beasts all around

After a violent attack saddles her with nightmarish flashbacks and a deep mistrust of men, Kate (Beth Dover) needs something to take the edge off the trauma. When best friend Nickie (Ta’Rea Campbell) scores her a three-month solo stay in a fire lookout tower in the middle of nowhere – well, Idaho – it sounds perfect.

It’s rugged, rural living but comes with incredible views and, most importantly, no abusive ex. All Kate has to do is radio in daily weather reports and watch for forest fires.

The first clue things aren’t idyllic in Idaho is Nickie’s brother, forestry warden Earl (Ato Essandoh). Not only are the siblings very estranged, but Earl is clearly nursing a few secrets. Kate’s closest neighbours in the forest are equally taciturn – and all male.

Soon her encounters with menacing hikers, an outdoor toilet, a herb-brewing widower and a creepy colleague send her PTSD spiralling out of control. But just as she starts to suspect she’s in danger, suddenly Kate can’t be sure what’s real, and what’s not.

Outpost’s insufferable men

The issue of what a male director can tell us about violence against women and girls is never far away in Outpost, and returns with a vengeance in its wildly outrageous ending. Is it tone-deaf, patronising, solidarity or simply cinema homage? Well, perhaps it’s a bit of everything.

The set-up is familiar cinema, with yet another hysterical woman running blindly towards danger. But as indie horror, Outpost does what many mainstream movies don’t: it gives us few moral certainties, upends most of them, then leaves us to make sense of the bloodshed.

Also of note is the film’s collection of monstrous men which, together with Kate’s febrile trauma, reflects a wearied zeitgeist. Perhaps some of the behaviours of toxic masculinity – long accepted as the norm in the stories we tell – are now insufferable to film-makers and audiences alike.

Outpost isn’t classic horror, and not always believable or polished, but is often inventive and playful, and resolutely does its own thing. Sometimes it’s good to get off a well-beaten path.

Outpost (2022), directed by Joe Lo Truglio

Outpost will be released On Demand and Download in the UK & Ireland from Sept 11, and in Australia & New Zealand from Sept 13.

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Picture credit: Yaroslav Shuraev, Marek Piwnicki (composite)